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Mitchell B. Reiss News/Business. (2011) Author Mitchell B. Reiss discusses talking to terrorists. (CC)

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  WETA    This Is America With Dennis Wholey    Mitchell B. Reiss  News/Business.  (2011) Author  
   Mitchell B. Reiss discusses talking to terrorists. (CC)  

    July 3, 2011
    10:00 - 10:30am EDT  

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>> mitchell b. reiss is the president of washington college in chester town -- chestertown, maryland, author of the book "negotiating with evil -- when to talk to terrorists." mitchell, congratulations on your book, "negotiating with evil -- when to talk to terrorists." welcome to the program. >> thank you very much. >> can we agree on a definition of terrorism? >> there are over 100 definitions. one of the goals of the book is to explain that and not to add a 101st. what i did do was use the phrase
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when it was used by governments -- their depiction of their state adversaries -- in part because that show the difference that --distance that the government had to travel to sit down and negotiate with these people. it also prevented a pretty fruitless discussion of what is and is not a terrorist. >> is it all about creating fear and blackmailing a government? >> i think we can all agree on certain elements. it is violence used in pursuit of a larger political purpose by a non-state actor, generally to incite fear an overreaction -- and overreaction, often indiscriminate, meaning civilians are killed, along with targeted government officials. again, there are a variety of definitions. people have different feelings about these groups. >> this is an important phrase,
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"non state actors." it is not a government against the government. these are smaller groups, i gather? >> that is exactly right. oftentimes, they are supported by governments, but they do not have that status under international law. they are a different animal. >> 9/11 -- did the horror of that just bring that home to the united states? we had seen little bits of it here and there, but that really brought it home, huh? >> absolutely. for many americans, that will be the most significant political event in his or her life. >> that is fascinating. elaborate on that a little bit. >> as pearl harbor was for an earlier generation, i know that students that i teach at
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washington college -- this was a visceral image of -- in their young lives, one that they will carry with them forever. >> it is not necessarily something that they think about every single day, but the event has had such a dramatic impact on them? >> i think that is right. i think it does reservist from time to time -- resurface from time to time. i do think we now have a context to empathize with other victims. >> with terrorism -- taliban, al-qaeda -- they are synonymous in our minds? >> al qaeda it is terror group number one, but it is broader than that. there are terrorists all over the world. most people believe that terrorist -- there will be more terrorist groups in the future.
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>> that is kind of frightening. we never knew suicide bombers and things like that. now, all of a sudden, they will show up in countries all over the world, throw bombs, ied's. >> this form of terrorism was started in tamil. >> what is the form? >> suicide bombers, both male and female. was president bush -- >> was president bush on tiger when he used the phrase "war and terror -- "war on terror"? i think -- >> i think he was. it also needs to be understood that this is not a war on instruments. a can not always be fought by military means -- it cannot
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always be fought by military means, though that can be effective. there are a lot of different tactics to adopt in this war. it will go on for decades. >> in addition to creating fear, do the terrorists have clear-cut goals in mind when they embark on creating this year? -- fear? >> almost always. in the case studies that i look at, the terrorist groups have very specific goals. they want the government to do something or to stop doing something and they are using violence to promote that end. >> there are a couple of phrases that i want ask you about "the terrorist threat matrix." what does that mean? what is that? but it is a document that the government produces every morning for -- >> it is a document that the government
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produces every morning for government officials which outlines the terrorist attacks in the world over the last 24 hours. >> is the list extensive? >> upsettingly, it is. >> so that people in the state government -- state department and in the white house are reading this every day? >> it is certainly provided to them on a daily basis. there are policies from this mass of itemized threats. it is a challenge. >> let us pursue that or just a second. might it be 10, 20, 50 on a given day that would show up on this tariff threat matrix -- terror threat matrix? >> that is absolutely possible. they range from statements that have not been corroborated whereas others are much more severe threats. >> "terror at tuesday's."
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what does that mean -- "terror tuesdays." what does that mean? them that it is when the president gets his week -- >> it is when the president gets his weekly briefing on terrorist threats from his security advisers. >> our guest is mitchell b. reiss, author of "negotiating with evil -- when to talk to terrorists." sit tight. we will be back on the other side. "this is america." "this is america" is made possible by -- the national education association, the nation's largest advocate for children and public education. the american federation of teachers, a union of professionals.
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poongsan corporation, forging a higher global standard. and the rotondaro family trust. the ctc foundation. afo communications. and the american life tv network. when the united states went into iraq in 2003, 2004, they appointed a viceroy, jerry bremer, who made four big decisions right away. can you run down those decisions
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and what was the aftermath of those decisions? >> the decisions had to do with this bending the army, outlined -- disbanding the army, putting thousands out on the streets without jobs. he united men with guns with men with ideas, fighting -- feeding into the insurgency. >> so that party was out. the police were out, the army was out. there was some kind of nationalization of industries or something like that? >> again, trying to get rid of the state-and entities to make it more efficient. >> and there were no state-run entities?
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>> there was a virtual government that did not have much of 40 -- much authority . >> what is the definition of insurgency? >> people have different definitions. in the case of iraq, it was forces opposed to the government taking up arms and using violence. that is certainly what we saw there, primarily by the sunni tribes. the chaos in iraq provided the opportunity for al qaeda to move in. so you had this cancer in the midst of iraqi society -- al qaeda in iraq that was being able to metastasize across the country given the chaos. >> something kind of amazing happened in the anbar province, right? there were a few key players involved. colonel mcfarland, lieutenant-
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colonel jean, and -- lt. colonel dean, and another man. how do they all come together? >> we have the finest military in the world. it is led by the finest officers. what you have their, 2006 -- there, 2006, is officers who are taking their second or third tour of iraq, so they have a better understanding of the locals, how the tribes worked. colonel mcfarlane and lt. colonel dean or trying to see if it was possible to get any of the city tried to stop al qaeda.g the cheyenn it was the first time you saw this might be possible.
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abdul satar was a minor tribe -- was the leader of a minor tribe, who had the courage and vision to see that lining up without it would not bring justice or stability to iraqi society. he was the one who shifted. >> it was very bloody in that shift. people were killed. in the foreground, the surge was taking place. at some point, general petraeus was involved, general odierno was involved. talking with her rich, talking with the enemy can pay off and obviously -- with courage, talking with the enemy can pay off and obviously did. >> in the case of anbar, we
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worked with people who had blood on their hands. there was the idea that that was then and this was now. if we wanted to provide and stability, save american lives, and get out of iraq, leaving behind a fairly stable government, we had to do something. you have the courage of these young officers. after that, you had the surge, the battle plan that was able to leverage the zuni tribe's slipping over to our side. -- sunni tribes slipping over to our side. >> you have roamed around the world and talked to hundreds and hundreds of people on all sides of this question of when do you talk to terrorists. when do you? what is the bottom line? how do you make that position -- a decision? as i ask those questions, i was thinking about then-senator barack obama in the 2008
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election, when he was -- and they said, would you talk to the enemy? he said he would talk to the enemy without preconditions or preparations. what is the bottom line? when do you talk to them? >> first of all, let's be very clear. sometimes you do not. sometimes you have groups would objectives of our so maximal -- objectives that are so maximal or apocalyptic that there is no point. al qaeda is one example of that right now. there are other groups with local or more focused grievances that could be addressed short of having to kill or capture all of them, which is military difficult -- militarily difficult, operationally and feasible -- unfeasible in some instances. you are looking for objectives -- whether they have any
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interest in changing their objectives, whether they want to talk. you have to see if they're willing to curtail some of their larger objectives. >> is that this business of bak channels? having these preliminary, preparatory talks? >> in most of these cases come -- cases donna leff level military official or a third- party unrelated -- in most of these cases, low-level military officials or a third-party unrelated official may go to talk to the party. the terrorists are also taking a risk. it may be that the person taking the risk is opposed by many of his comrades. >> what came into my mind as you said that was the last -- those folks in spain and the initial
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contact, the deniability factor. deny.an explore, but tnine >> you have to be very careful to make sure that people with blood on their hands are genuine in interest -- genuine in interest to end the concepfl. >> i gather that timing is involved in this as well. some kind of mutual interest would have to be -- >> it also means that you are not going to win at the negotiating table what you cannot defend on the battlefield. what this means is that you have to keep on hammering these groups while you are negotiating. you have to either be winning or you have to remove all hope that the terrorists can win. otherwise, you have no leverage.
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they will just keep fighting because they feel that with one more bomb, one more terrorist attack, they can force you to withdraw. then they can receive all of the benefits. >> that comes into play without al qaeda trying to get packages onto planes in the united states or people lighting their chutes on fire -- shoes on fire. the underwear bomber -- those kinds of people. they keep trying because they think that one more time, they might make some success. >> al-qaeda has been clear in their goals. they want us to remove ourselves from the foreign bases that we have across the middle east and remove all of our support for our friends and allies in the region. it is simply not going to happen. wereu're involved -- you involved as an envoy, with the rank of ambassador, in these
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peace talks with northern ireland. what was it that caused all of this carnage over a long period of time? >> the goal was to drive the british out of northern ireland. it took the brits almost two decades to persuade the leadership that they were not going to leave. it could be that the british would not have defeated the ira, but the ira saw that they were never going to defeat the british. it started and evolution of thinking that there could be a political solution -- started and evolution -- started an evolution of thing that there could be a political solution. >> i have always thought those numbers of killed and wounded -- it is beyond the pale to call that "the troubles." why did every -- anyone come up with that terminology?
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>> perhaps it was a poet. you're talking about 600,000 dead and over 2 million wounded. imagine what that would do to our society to have that type of tragedy of that scale. you -- >> you make a couple that, in talking with the terrorist, negotiating with eagle, it was a key in the northern ireland that they found a partner for peace -- negotiating with evil, it was key in northern ireland that they found a partner for peace. who was that? >> that was gerry adams. you need to have an individual with credibility with his comrades. it has to be someone with an imagination to realize there is another pass from violence. he was the leader of sinn fein. he had a very unusual skill set. he is a remarkable individual.
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>> we have iraq and anbar province -- success. northern ireland -- success. you give an example of the tree longer in the book, a failure -- of sri lanka in the book, a failure. and theil tigers i basque. >> no gerry adams. >> i do not want to ram it -- romanticize gerry because he is responsible for an awful lot of death and destruction across northern ireland. at a certain point in life, he decided he wanted to go in another direction. it makes him an unusual figure. you have to find somebody like that, or else the negotiation will not pay off. >> lipsticks and present-day examples. you have taken a kid off of -- let's take some present-day
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examples. you have taken al-qaeda of of the table. >> i look at how moss. -- you have taken al qaeda off of the table. >> i look at how mushamas. basically, they want no israel. until the day that the israelis -- until that day, the israelis are reluctant to talk to them. >> it will not happen. how about north korea? >> that is -- i spent four years talking to them about their weapons problem. i think they have made the decision that they want to be a nuclear weapon states. i personally cannot see any way that we can talk them out of it. >> let's shift to afghanistan and the taliban. any opening there?
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the mother might be some stuff going on behind the scenes. that is actually one of the problems. you do not have a single channel. you do not have a single diplomatic framework like you did in the northern ireland. you have a number of governments that are getting mixed messages to the taliban. >> who are those governments? >> pakistanis, afghanistan, america, uae, turkey. there are a variety of people putting out overtures, and that is confusing. these terrorists are not the most sophisticated actors in the world. they are generally young men who have been indoctrinated from a young age. having so many people involved in this is confusing. you need to create a single channel and coordinate the message. we're not doing that yet. we do not have the intelligence
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assets -- the insides that we need into the taliban. there was an embarrassing incident a couple of months ago, where we thought it on the number two person in the taliban, mullah omar, who wanted to talk, thought there might be room for negotiation and compromise, but it turns out he was a pakistani convenience store owner, which we only found out after passing out a large amount of money to him. you have to proceed carefully, intelligently, methodically. intelligence has to be right. it is -- we have to be very careful. there are very high stakes. these are live-and-death decisions -- life-and-death decisions. >> is karzai and allied -- karzai an ally?
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>> he has called them brothers, which can be demoralizing if you are an american charged with capturing and killing these guys. president karzai is a complicated figure. he is out for president karzai. we will see what happens. >> when you step back and take all of your experience, state department, convoy, ambassador -- envoy, embassador, what is the biggest lesson you have learned for yourself about this business? how do you take what you have learned on a day-to-day basis, running a college? >> there are a few lessons. first of all, if you do not talk to terrorist groups, it is not cost-free. you pay a price.
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you may miss an opportunity to end the conflict and save lives. there is a price to be paid. you have to be careful. that is one lesson. more generally, i think the idea is that you have to be patient. of all of the occasions where we have had success, it has taken many months, even years, of painstaking, patient negotiation. politicians operate on election cycles, negotiations with these guys do not. it will take a long time, longer than any of us want. the end result is not certain. unless you try, you may never find an end to these complex. >> fascinating book, "negotiating with evil -- when to talk to terrorists," mitchell b. reiss. thank you so much. good to have you here. captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org-- for online video of all "this is america" programs, visit our
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website, thisisamerica.net. "this is america" is made possible by -- the national education association, the nation's largest advocate for children and public education. the american federation of teachers, a union of professionals. poongsan corporation, forging a higher global standard. and the rotondaro family trust. the ctc foundation. afo communications. and the american life tv networks. -- nowork. -- nowork.
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